Monday, January 4, 2016

Blogging the GOEs, Question 1: The Crust Awakens

[Disclaimer #1:  You know, Crusty can be serious at times (well, often, actually) and here is a very special message from COD:  These blog postings are really about me arguing with the questions, and are not intended to be any kind of GOE forum.  Crusty welcomes comments and feedback, but please DO NOT discuss answers in the comments section, since the GOEs are a double-blind process -- readers aren't supposed to know who you are, God forbid any of them should stumble
DPC and COD.
across this site.]

[Disclaimer #2:  Last year for some strange reason Crusty was elected to the General Board of Examining Chaplains. To prevent any appearance of conflict of interest, Crusty has recruited Dread Pirate Crusty to fill in this year as GOE blogger.  While COD is allowing Dread Pirate to remain anonymous, rest assured the Crust is strong in DPC.]



Growing up, Dread Pirate Crusty had a dear friend who was Southern Baptist.  DPC’s friend disliked greatly attending DPC’s church, because she found the scriptures odd and boring.  “It’s so much better,” she reasoned, “when the pastor can just choose whatever scripture speaks to them at the moment.  That way, God can TRULY be HEARD.”  

Dread Pirate Crusty’s friend was batty, dear chums.  Loony as a lake in springtime.  

One of the strengths of the liturgical tradition is the lectionary, which we share with most other liturgical traditions (excepting for the times in which the Roman Catholic church elects to strike boldly forth and ignore hard-fought ecumenical agreement just for the prize of being contrary, as is their wont, but DPC digresses.)  The lectionary prevents us from becoming fixated on our own obsessions and bugaboos, and ignoring the richness and complexity of the Spirit’s voice speaking through all of Scripture.  

And bearing this fact in mind, let us now turn our chastened attention to Question 1.

Set 1: The Holy Scriptures
Open Resources
The Bible study group in your parish is reading the books of Ruth and Ezra, and has asked you about the apparent contradictions between these two books. In particular, they are concerned about the role of the “outsider” in the community in light of recent political discussions about immigration. The group has asked you, their Rector, to speak to them about these texts, and you have chosen to focus your discussion on the following two passages
The land that you are entering to possess is a land unclean with the pollutions of the peoples of the lands, with their abominations. They have filled it from end to end with their uncleanness. Therefore do not give your daughters to their sons, neither take their daughters for your sons, and never seek their peace or prosperity, so that you may be strong and eat the good of the land and leave it for an inheritance to your children forever. -- Ezra 9:11-12 NRSV
So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife. When they came together, the Lord made her conceive, and she bore a son. Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without next-of-kin; and may his name be renowned in Israel! He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age; for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has borne him.” Then Naomi took the child and laid him in her bosom, and became his nurse. The women of the neighborhood gave him a name, saying, “A son has been born to Naomi.” They named him Obed; he became the father of Jesse, the father of David. -- Ruth 4:13-17 NRSV
Write an essay of about 1,000 words that forms the basis for a presentation to this Bible study group that demonstrates awareness of the literary, theological, and historical contexts of the passages while addressing the concerns of the group. Bring in at least two other scriptural references, one of which must be from the New Testament, to support your essay.

OK.  

Dread Pirate Crusty will first focus on the positives, for there are quite a few.  First of all, this is a very real issue.  One only has to scuttle out from beneath Spongebob Squarepants’ rock beneath the sea to discover that events in the past year have made immigration, the refugee crisis, and Islamophobia, hot button issues for us today.  As faithful Christians, it is our duty to examine our tradition to see what it says about all of these things.  Kudos to GBEC for attempting to respond to a social issue that is so current,  

Also, kudos to them for trying hard to avoid a common trap when it comes to issues of inclusion.  When progressive minded Christians talk about including “the other,” it is not uncommon for us to default to a simplistic dualism, and invoke the idol of the “god of the Old Testament.”  “The God of the Old Testament,” we claim, “was hateful and vengeful, and didn’t like outsiders!  The God of the Old Testament was all about law-following and not about grace!  The God of JESUS, on the other hand…”  

At this point no one is left listening, because half the congregation has swooned over in fits of love for Jesus, and the other half has stormed off to burn a synagogue.

Dread Pirate Crusty exaggerates (slightly), but it is a common dualism for well-meaning Episcopalians to create.  God of the Old Testament who is “mean” and “rigid,” as opposed the God of the New Testament who is “nice” and “inclusive.”  And this is just… well, quite frankly, heresy. (See Marcion of Sinope, circa 2nd century).
"We are totes cutting these books out of the Bible."
 Not only is this a slander to our Jewish brothers and sisters, and the God they (and Jesus, by the way...) worship, but it is a slander to God as revealed in the text of the Hebrew Bible.    A God who spoke of the Ethiopians as precious to him as the Israelites, a God who urged protection for the stranger and the foreigner, a God who mourned for the very cattle of Assyria.  We dismiss the scriptural witness to this God at our continual peril.  

So DPC is quite happy to see the GBEC ask the test takers to respond largely from an Old Testament perspective.  They are asked to pull in at least one New Testament quote, but by including at least one Old Testament reference, the temptation for an easy dualism is largely avoided.  DPC applauds.

However, this question is not without its problems.  

To start with, faithful readers of the Dread Crusty genre might be thinking to yourselves, “Gee, this feels familiar.”  And indeed, you would be correct.  This question is nearly an exact copy of the GOE Scripture question from way back in...  2011.  That question was also about responding to “the Other” in our midst, and asked the respondent to do so by exegeting a series of scriptural quotations, INCLUDING THIS VERY PAIR.   (The other pair was 1 Cor 5:1-5 and Ephesians 2:14-18)  

As GOB Bluth would say, were he taking these GOEs, COME ON.  

Please recall that these students are preparing for the exercise of ordained ministry in the Episcopal Church, wherein we are bound to the lectionary--which, as Dread Pirate Crusty pointed out to DPC’s childhood friend, prevents us from becoming needlessly fixated.  In actual ministry, an ordained person would not confine the issue of “the Other” to the one instance every 3 years in which the book of Ruth appears in the lectionary.   In reality, we deal with difference every day of our lives.  We speak to the senior warden who is younger than us, the sexton who speaks a different language, the matriarch who despises us, the toddler in Sunday School who is barely verbal--and that’s just on an average workday.  

So it’s pretty egregious that no one on GBEC could find ANYTHING ELSE in the whole Bible for a discussion on immigration.  Abraham buying a burial site in Genesis?  God’s command to safeguard the stranger, as the Israelites were once strangers in Egypt?  My ancestor was a wandering Aramean?  Jonah?  Second Isaiah?
If you're going to be occupied, at least let it be by hunky Persians.
 Salvation at the hands of Cyrus the Persian?  

There is literally something in nearly every book of the Old Testament regarding how the people of God are to engage with the Other.  This isn’t surprising, since the People of God were the Other nearly every moment of their existence.  (You could probably even make something out of Bel and the Dragon if you were really industrious.  +100 Dread Pirate Crusty points for anyone who attempts that!)   And this is not even touching the New Testament, because we’re trying to avoid that dualism heresy that Dread Pirate Crusty so abhors.  

The first problem with this question is that it doesn’t ask the respondent anything new.  In ministry, you will never be teed up like this.  No bible study will ever read Ruth and Ezra together. Ever.  More likely, a hotheaded usher will start yelling about your sermon on Deuteronomy, and making America great again in
More realistic setup for question as DPC sees it.
coffee hour, and you have to respond.  In ministry, you will be asked to make the less-likely text fit the issue at hand, not the glaringly obvious proof text, and this question in no way prepares you for that.

This leads to the second problem.  The respondent is directed to write an essay addressing the various contexts of each passage, “while addressing the concerns of the group” in question.  The respondent is NOT directed to take a position on immigration, based on the texts at hand.

Why on earth not?

Oh, yes, of course. Dread Pirate Crusty now contritely realizes that this is hardly the time for a prophetic church, what with people running for president finding messages openly advocating mass deportation and religious registration resonating.  We would barely deign to have clergy openly challenge such a situation on the basis of scriptural knowledge and sincere faith.  Much better to let the status quo stand - it has served us well, after all - and the majority of Americans continue to believe that the Christian church is a mechanism of the establishment with its only interest being in maintaining its own power and authority, rather than serving Christ in the most vulnerable.  

Or we could, you know, follow God as revealed to us in scripture. FFS.  

In a time when hate crimes committed by Christians against “the Other” are on the rise – in a time of increased violence, racism, xenophobia, and hatred of all kinds, the Church cannot afford to stand silent.  We cannot afford to bide our time, assuming that ‘good people’ will just know what ‘real Christians’ actually believe.  No one knows anymore.  We lost the battle.  The microphone hasn’t been ours for a long time.  We have to say something.  

It is this problem, more than the rest, that lands this question solidly in Meh territory. (Yes, the Dread Pirate has chosen to adopt the grading scheme of those who have blogged the GOEs in years prior in Crustacular fashion.)  While GBEC deserves credit for trying (bless their hearts), they chickened out.  They ran away in the manner of Sir Robin and his minstrels.  

Rather than asking students to respond to the nuances of this issue in the usual sequence of the lectionary, and to take a stand on it, they passed the buck.  

Meh, GBEC.  Meh indeed.  

Ranking system quick review!

WTF:  an ungodly sh*tstorm of a question.
Meh:  good, but not great, could have been better phrased or framed, but clearly not a WTF question.
Axios! (Greek for "worthy", what is shouted by laity at ordinations in the Eastern Orthodox Churches):  a question which actually does what it's supposed to do, provide an opportunity for a student to demonstrate competency in the relevant canonical area.

8 comments:

  1. Yeah, looking at this as someone who hopes to take one of these one day (not this year), I'm wondering about this question. It's a good question, in and of itself, but it's a modified repeat. Immigration isn't going away as an issue, so will this keep showing up?

    I like grounding it in a practical occasion (like a Bible study), but the lectionary is another place this could come up. Furthermore, this issue could come up without any prompting anyway. This could be done very differently.

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  2. I'd like to claim my 100 points please. Perhaps they could be applied to the 2011 GOE's that I took and failed spectacularly. ;)

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  3. I would add a third problem to the DPC's already well- articulated criticism, and that is the audience. The idea that one would put together "a presentation to this Bible study group that demonstrates awareness of the literary, theological, and historical contexts of the passages while addressing the concerns of the group" is ludicrous. That's not a Bible study, that's a lecture. And this is the Holy Scripture question, not the coffee-hour question. I understand the GOE impulse to make everything "practical," but I think it's being taken to extremes. DPC is right that they hypothetical case is not what would happen (angry parishioner at coffee hour is much more likely). If you want to ask the question, just give the two texts and then say, "in an essay of x words, explain how you wrestle with this tension in our holy scriptures, addressing the literary, historical, and theological contexts of the passages and using at least two other texts, etc." Don't try and set up some "Bible study lecture," response scenario, which is just silly.

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    Replies
    1. Excellent point! Realistic responses to this issue arising (whether at Bible study or the coffee hour) are probably a few sentences explaining a passage, maybe two. It's the sort of answer that would not show someone's expertise in Scripture the way a GOE should seek to.

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  4. I understand the quibbles over the question's shortcomings, particularly with regards to not being asked to take a position and it's lack of originality.

    Still, while many in the pews are probably prone to marcionism, I would hope that a heresy that obvious would be assumed to not be an option (though I'll concede I perhaps live a bit too much in hope as far as TEC goes) for ordinands in their final steps towards ordained ministry. I also would think that while it is startlingly unoriginal (plagiarized? Do original work GBEC!), I seriously doubt anyone was poring over tests that old in GOE prep. When I took them I looked over the last two or three years, but I don't know that concerns they'd have already known how to answer it are particularly well founded.

    I actually was fairly impressed by the question (though 1000 words is painfully brief to squeeze all that in), so even though I wouldn't quibble with "meh," it's definitely on the far higher end of that particular rating for me.

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  5. Let's not be so self-congratulatory about the common lectionary. I lost count of the amendments that General Convention made to the RCL. And of course, the structure of the RCL is essentially derived from the Roman lectionary of 1969.

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  6. I think that the GBEC is entirely too lazy in making their so-called "practical" situations class presentations and parish newsletters. As if the bible (or theology) is only relevant to set pieces in churchy situations.

    In much earlier days the questions were not limited to single areas (like scripture) and required the students being examined to show integration of all 7 canonical areas in each question (or maybe 4 or 5 in one question and 3 or 4 in another question). Scripture (and the other areas as well) relates to every situation that a priest might encounter--a Bible study group might be a better venue for a question relating to Pastoral Care, or Church and Society, IMHO

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  7. I see that if one is following the daily office lectionary, every six years Ruth shows up in the eucharistic readings while Ezra is being read in the office (year B/year one, beginning of November).

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